Andrej Ivanov: On Migrant Crisis and Moral Decisions

Refugees are people, which means we have a problem with people, a huge amount of displaced persons.

The journalists who heard something about my books based on my experience as a refugee often send me questions: what could I say about latest migrant crisis? could I provide them with my analysis?

Well, what can I say?

What can a man who had been in a car accident say about crisis of a car industry?

I can hardly manage my own daily obligations. An unsuccessful unemployed stateless scribbler from Estonia Russian by origin with proletarian background, soviet education, who grew up under looming shadow of a brutal policeman father with runaway restless workoholic paranoic mother. Before I got my first novel published (it was in 2009, though I had started it in 1998), I had made lots of mistakes in my life and had known vicissitudes and consequences. I met lots of people, I studied literature in Tallinn university, I had had really good teachers but I found out what real literature is when I lived in Danish Red Cross camps.

So, in my point of view, it is not refugees or migrants who is the Big Problem. No, refugees is not the EU biggest problem; the flood of refugees is a consequence of the Big Problem for which Europe may be or not responsible.

I can’t point my finger at the politicians and economists and bankers and say ‘you are responsible’.

Of course, I can not, that would be immature, but there’s an opinion that some respectable minds share and one of those opinions was published in The Guardian: “… the World Bank has massively contributed to the flow of impoverished people across the globe. The single biggest thing we could do to stop migration is to abolish the development mafia: the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.” (“Refugees don’t need our tears. They need us to stop making them refugees”:

You may disagree but there’s something to think about.

I do not wish to say anything bluntly and unfoundedly, cause I have been through many arguments and disputes and they make no sense cause proved to be non-constructive.

Every time I travel to Sweden I read Swedish papers. When I am home in Estonia I still habitually follow the Danish and Swedish papers in Internet. Both countries – Denmark and Sweden – seem to have changed a lot since the 1990s. I recently met Danish people and we talked, they confirmed my feelings, they said the spirit of free country is slowly going out. I often come across articles of politicians who say that Denmark should ‘close the borders’ and not take refugees any more.

When I read about scandals and stabbings, about how packed Swedish Red Cross camps are and how slowly the process is going, I agree with Schopenhauer: if this world were a bit worse it would not function at all.

I think it moves in a wrong direction, and we are responsible for that, we are responsible for everything. We do not have other world, whatever MR Stephen Hawking says – that we need to find another planet withing following 100 years – I do not accept it, we can’t exhaust and leave behind the earth. Escape is no option.

We are already living in a state of avoiding the problem by not accepting responsibility for greater crisis to come and those atrocities we had committed.

Let me show you how I see this:

even if I do not want to connect myself personally with Medieval Inquisition, or with La Conquista in America, The Holocaust of World War II or GULAGs or Rwandan genocide, those who are responsible for these crimes were human, I am human therefore I am responsible.

I’m talking about sense of guilt.

As soon as we take it, we want to correct the things, make it better – it is in a human nature. If we take blame for the current situation in Syria, we change it. We could find the way to build up a better world in Africa and Middle East.

Earth is our planet, there should be place for everyone and goods should be equally distributed amongst all people. I can’t live my life knowing that there are people dying under bombs, and I do not want to leave my son with the same moral dilemma: how to live in a comfort knowing that there’s famine elsewhere.

As for now, we are living in the world like on a painting of Théodore Géricault The Raft of Meduse. Europe is a big boat.

Is it big enough to take all refugees of Middle East and Africa?

Understandably not. It can’t, therefore some politicians are seriously considering to leave them drifting in the thunderous ocean. I do not wish to be part of it, neither do I wish my son to be part of it in the future.

Trust me, if we leave that “raft with refugees” behind, Europeans will take a huge psychological burden and our posterity will not forgive us. Consequences may be disastrous. We may enter the world of cynicism we had never known, some inhumanly cold world of the worst nightmares.

There must be something done in order to stop this agony.

Before I finish, I want to introduce another thing to ponder: it may be so that the migrants and refugees is just a sign of a bigger inescapable change of the entire world on a larger scale which can’t be perceived by a human eye. Metaphorically speaking, on a surface we see people who move on, there’s war – they run. But in fact there may be some kind of “under-current” of which we have no clue. Perhaps, all the crisis and clashes are inevitable; perhaps, we just have to accept that we are drifting into the world without national and ethnic differences. I am not a religious person by far, I sympathize to the Gaia theory. The living organism of the earth is changing. It is quite obvious. The changes should require of people to adjust to – and we do. Nobody knows where it is going to take us. It is plausible that we can’t do anything about these changes, nevertheless it is up for us to make moral decisions and attempt to struggle for the better world for everyone. I’m sure our kids will not rebuke us for this effort. Who knows, maybe that will be the only thing we’ll be remembered for.


Andrej Ivanov (b. 1971 in Estonia) graduated from Tallinn pedagogical university as a Russian philologist, lived in Denmark in a hippy commune, travelled elsewhere in Scandinavia, and writes in Russian. His novels A Handful of Dust (2011) and a picaresque novel Hanuman’s journey to Lolland (2009) recount his experiences in Scandinavia. His novel Harbin Moths (2013) which has already won several literary awards, also deals with refugee life. He has been a member of the Estonian Writer’s Union since 2013. His novels are translated in Estonia, Germany, and France. Andrei Ivanov has also published novellas and stories, and the first translation in Finnish, Kourallinen tomua (A Handful of Dust) by Jukka Mallinen, will be published in autumn 2018 by Aviador.


Andrej Ivanov took part in the Lahti International Writers´ reunion in 2017.

Back to top